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JAKARTA: Millions of Indonesians were stuck in traffic jams until 3 p.m. Saturday as they returned to their hometowns to spend the Muslim Eid Al-Fitr holiday season with their families.

Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, has allowed the annual homecoming tradition known as ‘mudik’ for the first time since it was banned for two years to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

More than 85 million Indonesians, about 31% of the total population, are expected to travel by the end of Ramadan this year, according to a survey by the Ministry of Transport, after the government eased travel restrictions, including removing testing requirements for those who received COVID-19 booster shots.

“I am very happy. I can go back in mudik, like the years before the pandemic. I can spend Eid Al-Fitr this year with my family and loved ones,” said Iwan Patoni, a 33-year-old hairdresser from Surakarta. , in Central Java, to Arab News.

Patoni said the trip from Banten province, where he works, to his hometown took him 15 hours.

“The enthusiasm was there this year, as before the pandemic. It was crowded, congested and quite tiring,” Patoni said.

Dheamyra Aysha, a 21-year-old student traveling to the capital Jakarta from Bandung, West Java, said she was stuck on the road for 10 hours, a journey that would normally take around three hours.

“This is my first time on such a long trip from Bandung to Jakarta. It is truly memorable because I have never had to endure a complete stop during a car ride and have seen many other people protesting on the road,” Aysha told Arab News.

Aerial footage taken this week showed long lines of cars crawling either side of toll booths on some of the main roads out of Jakarta, with the Transport Ministry reporting that nearly 1.4 million vehicles left the area of Greater Jakarta since April 22.

Travelers also swarmed airports, train stations and bus terminals throughout the week, brimming with excitement as they left major cities for their hometowns to celebrate the religious holiday.

Indonesia is grappling with one of Asia’s highest COVID-19 infection rates, but the country has eased many pandemic restrictions as the public health situation improves. However, health experts remain concerned that increased mobility and interaction could lead to another spike in coronavirus cases.

“The risk from the current situation is lower than before, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t potential for an increase,” Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia, told Arab. News.

Indonesian Health Ministry spokeswoman Siti Nadia Tarmizi said the government has accelerated vaccination efforts in popular mudik destinations and points of origin as part of its COVID-19 mitigation strategy. during the Eid holiday season.

“We hope (the spikes in cases) will not occur, but it is also important to carry out research and testing to reduce the spread of transmission,” Tarmizi told Arab News.

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